The 5th Passenger
AN: Okay...it's been...years since I continued this, but I finally decided to go back to it. Thanks to the reviewers, in case any of you are still reading this. Don't know when the next chapter will be up, seeing as how I've got college, work, and a strong Star Wars obsession now, but I promise you that I won't abandon this story. My stories may hibernate for a while, but they don't die.
Esmeralda landed with a forceful crash onto the floor of the house. The hard floor shot pain through her body, which aggravated the discomfort that her body already contained. Once the momentary shock from the shift in gravity had passed, it took her eyes a few seconds to focus, and then she realized that there wasn't much to focus on. Apart from the slim streak of moonlight peeking into the window, the room was buried in complete darkness.
"Who's there? What are you doing here?"
Esmeralda sprung up into a sitting position - a reflex reaction to the unfamiliar voice. She might have done more if the voice hadn't sounded juvenile, which meant that it was not a big threat.
"Who are you?"
Should she answer? The young voice was not a threat in itself, but the voice was probably not alone. She silently brought her knees up to her chest, as though that would make her invisible.
"Don't try to hide - I can see you."
Now she could hear soft footsteps - the figure to whom the voice belonged was approaching her. In the dim light, she could only see a silhouette of a small figure in a nightgown, slowly enlarging as it came closer to her.
"Are you all right?" the silhouette asked.
Esmeralda pushed her eyebrows down into a glare at the figure. "Who do you think you are?"
"I'm Mathilde," the voice said, "and you just fell through my window, so I think under these circumstances I should be the one asking you who you think you are...oh dang, the fire's gone out." The silhouette walked a few feet away from her to a fireplace in which tiny red-orange jewels of burning coals lay. She grabbed a metal stick from the wall and used it to poke the coals until flames sprouted out of them.
Esmeralda cautiously rose to her feet, the warmth of the fire being too large a temptation for her to resist. She hobbled over to the fireplace and stuck her numb hands in front of the fire, her emotions palliated for a moment from the wonderful heat.
After a few moments, she dared to turn her head up to look at the child who had brought this fire. She had a head of blonde curls that rested on her shoulders every which-way, the top of her head tussled up from the bed. The top of Esmeralda's head reached the tip of her shoulders - the girl was eight, perhaps nine years old.
"Are you cold?" the one who called herself Mathilde asked.
Are you cold? What a stupid thing to say! Who wouldn't be cold after having been outside in that frigid air?
Mathilde reached over and touched Esmeralda's cold hands, giving them additional warmth and causing Esmeralda to abandon her thoughts of how stupid this girl was. "Hey," she said gently, "you could stay here for the night if you want. I have room in my bed."
Stay here, with this glorious fire and a warm bed? When comparing this notion to the idea of going back into the cold, Esmeralda almost found herself immediately saying yes, but stopping herself before the word escaped her lips. She thought of her mother and baby brother, still out there under the pursuit of that horrid judge.
"I...I can't," she said in a small voice. "I need to find my mother."
"Your mother?" Mathilde repeated.
"And my baby brother," continued Esmeralda.
"What happened to them?" asked Mathilde.
Esmeralda gulped. "A monster chased my mother away."
"He was like a monster," said Esmeralda. "He was big, scary, and mean. He wanted to steal my baby brother from my mother."
Both girls were silent for a moment, looking into each other's eyes in the fire's glow. Esmeralda saw uneasiness in Mathilde's face, most likely from the story she had just told.
"Madam, we have reason to believe that someone we are after is taking refuge in your house!" a gruff voice shouted from downstairs.
Esmeralda gasped. "The soldiers! They're after me!"
Mathilde gripped the younger girl's shoulders. "Quick, listen to me," she said in a hasty whisper. "Go down the hall, through the door at the very end at the hall, and down the stairs. You can then slip out the back door without them spotting you. Got that?"
"Yes," Esmeralda breathed, hoping she was right.
"After you're outside," Mathilde continued, "head for the Notre Dame cathedral - that's the big building with the two towers. You'll be safe there."
"What about my mother?" Esmeralda almost shouted.
"Shhh!" Mathilde hissed. "Listen, your mother probably went there too. Going to Notre Dame is probably the best chance you'll have of finding her."
"Why?" said Esmeralda.
"No time for questions," Mathilde said firmly. "You need to get out of here if you want to escape."
The loud creaking of boards from heavy feet searching the downstairs told Esmeralda that the older girl was right. She clearly saw the image of her mother and her little brother in her head, begging her to find them.
"Thank you," she whispered quickly before turning around and sprinting at full speed down the hall.
After she closed the hall door behind her, she heard the soldiers' footsteps growing louder, heading toward the bedroom where she had just been. As she ran down the stairs, she hoped that she hadn't gotten that kind girl into trouble.